The One AM Radio dials up new lineup, new sound
Frontman brings band back to home state
Peabody native Hrishikesh Hirway was a late starter. He played piano from an early age and picked up the drums in high school, but it wasn’t until college that The One AM Radio frontman added the guitar to his repertoire and began to seriously consider making music his vocation. In order to do that, however, he would have to decamp to Los Angeles.
“When I was in school, I was studying film. I wanted to score films. And I felt like when I was doing The One AM Radio, I could really do it from anywhere. I was doing it first at college and then when I moved back to Massachusetts,’’ says Hirway. “I realized I could be anywhere, really. And the only way to get into movie stuff was to be out in Los Angeles.’’
“I tried doing it in New York,’’ he adds, “but it didn’t really work out.’’
Following on the heels of April’s “Heaven Is Attached by a Slender Thread’’ (on Dangerbird), Hirway brings his somber but openhearted electro-pop back to his home state on Tuesday, when his group plays the Brighton Music Hall. And it is, significantly, The One AM Radio’s first album and major tour as an actual group, rather than the ever-changing collection of friends surrounding Hirway on his first four releases.
Those lineups of convenience generated a mounting frustration. Whenever he’d pull together a new group of musicians to go on the road, says Hirway, “I would have to rearrange the song, have to re-figure out how I was going to play it and who was going to play with me and teach them how to do it. It was just a long process, and it got tiresome and also kind of lonely.’’
He eventually settled on a permanent lineup that includes guitarist Scott Leahy and keyboardist Fontaine Cole, but the loneliness remains. Look no further than “In a City Without Seasons’’; hooked by the line “It’s hard to measure time in a city you don’t believe in,’’ it’s not an especially arms-open love letter to Hirway’s new hometown. It turns out that the ambivalence comes not from him but from native Angeleno Cole. “She was saying that she has a terrible memory and she blames it on LA, that every day looks the same.’’ (Cole has relocated to San Francisco.)
The changes don’t stop at the new personnel. The One AM Radio’s last album, 2007’s “This Too Will Pass,’’ was a late-night simmer, all hushed chamber-pop flecked with muted instruments such as bass clarinet and French horn. “Heaven’’ takes a different turn, more reliant on keyboards, synths, and beats with a pulse just too sharp for chill-out. Helping to shepherd the new sound was Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air), who took over for Hirway in the producer’s chair and refers to “Heaven’’ as “the kind of record that was being put together while it was being written.’’
“My working with [Hirway] was over a period of two years, from basically 2008 to 2010 on and off,’’ Hoffer says. “He has this slow process in how he writes, so it took a couple years for him to write his songs and to evolve them to where they’re at now. I think originally when he started, things were probably a bit more like the previous record. But it took him a bit of time and me helping him to sort of find the sonic voice for this record and the shape of it and the palette.’’
It was a creative evolution that Hirway says was a little bit deliberate and a little bit how things naturally ended up. Even so, despite the sonic transformation of The One AM Radio, the emotional tenor of the songs ultimately couldn’t change.
“I wanted to try and make something that was more upbeat,’’ says Hirway, “that was more like a dance record or more like a pop record. But somewhere along the way, that didn’t really end up working out either, because I don’t think I’m naturally inclined to do that. So some of the somberness just kind of leaked back in.’’
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.